Michigan State hits San Diego looking to turn up heat

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

As most of Michigan was busy getting blanketed by a Christmas Eve snowstorm, the Michigan State football team was enjoying the sun and warmth of San Diego as it spent its second day preparing for Thursday’s Holiday Bowl matchup with Washington State.

Michigan State players work out at Mesa College on Sunday ahead of the Holiday Bowl.

The Spartans (9-3) headed west on Friday and went through their first practice on Saturday followed by another two-hour workout on Sunday at Mesa College. It’s the first time the Spartans have hit the practice field since Monday when they had their last workout on campus before getting a holiday break.

“We went for about two and a half hours, so it’s a good day,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think the biggest thing coming off a couple days break is you’ve got to get back to game condition as much as you can.

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“We haven’t played a game in almost a month, so you try to put as many live perspectives in to practice as you can without getting people hurt. That means you’ve got to bring your feet with you and run, you’ve got to run and react, so that’s what we tried to get done today.”

Michigan State took time to enjoy the weather on Saturday, heading to Mission Beach in San Diego after practice.

“We’re excited to be in San Diego, we’re going to get a little lift in after practice and then go to the beach for a little bit to see the Pacific Ocean,” Dantonio said after practice No. 1. “It’s a beautiful day out here, the sun is shining and our guys are excited to be here.”

Michigan State, ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press football poll, takes on No. 21 Washington State (9-3) in the 40th annual San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. against Washington State. The Cougars come in with one of the most prolific passing attacks in the nation, averaging 374.8 yards a game through the air.

Getting pressure on senior quarterback Luke Falk will be critical, something Michigan State has done a far better job of this season. The Spartans enter the game with 28 sacks after recording just 11 last season. Sophomore Kenny Willekes leads with seven.

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“I think any time you can pressure the quarterback in any game, bad things are going to happen to the opposing team,” Dantonio said. “I think it's paramount we're able to get pressure on the quarterback, stop the run initially, force them into turnovers. Really they've come up with a lot of turnovers, 27 this year. They've given up 29.

“When they've not had success it's because of pressure, sacks, then it relates to turnovers. If we can get the turnovers, good things usually happen.”
Michigan State created 21 turnovers this season, including 13 interceptions.

The Spartans return to practice on Monday but will first take a team outing to the San Diego Zoo. Before Tuesday’s practice, the team will visit the USS Essex. A final walkthrough is planned for Wednesday with Dantonio and Washington State coach Mike Leach taking part in a pregame news conference.

“Washington State is an outstanding football team,” Dantonio said. “You watch or see why they've been so successful. Their season really parallels pretty much like our season in a lot of ways. One of these teams are going to have an opportunity to win 10 games, so why not us?”